Rising to what has become an annual challenge from Citibank, college students of marketing have been dreaming up hip advertising campaigns for imaginary credit cards, with snappy phrases like "get radical."

The challenge is a marketing contest Citibank inaugurated four years ago. It has become so popular that a number of colleges have added it to the curriculums of marketing classes.

This year, college students were invited to create mock affinity credit cards for campus programs, which would supposedly get percentages of sales.

Students created multimedia marketing campaigns to support the launching of the imaginary cards.

Oregon Students First

Three students from the University of Oregon took top honors in the Citibank MasterCard and Visa College Advertising Awards competition this year, for creating a "Citibank Outdoor Card" 1% of whose imaginary sales would help fund the university's outdoor club.

The Citicorp subsidiary gave the student team $5,000 for its mock affinity credit card marketing campaign. A matching gift went to the university.

The three students will be eligible for summer work in Citibank's MasterCard and Visa marketing department in New York to learn more about bank card marketing.

In their ad, the Oregon students said the Citibank Outdoor Card "won't soak you, because there's no annual fee . . . won't leave you on the rocks, because of its 24-hour ATM service . . . and will bail you out with worldwide acceptance."

A print ad enticed students to "get radical," with the Citibank Visa Outdoor Card. "Citibank helps you get the gear (and anything else you need), and the Outdoor Program makes sure you get to use it. So you can board it, climb it, kayak it, surf it, raft it, bike it, and more," the ad continues.

To prompt students to sign up for the imaginary card, the Oregon students created an imaginary contest that would give 18-day rafting trips through the Grand Canyon, with all expenses paid, to eight winners.

Participation Widespread

More than 3,000 students from 119 colleges and universities participated in this year's contest. Each school held a contest and allowed the winning team to compete nationally.

Southwest Missouri State University took second place with its imaginary "Citibank Equal Access Card," which was designed to raise money to make the university more accessible to handicapped students. The student team receives $2,500; the school gets a matching grant.

Howard University took third place with its hypothetical "Citibank Outreach Visa," designed to support the university's outreach program for the homeless. The three-member team takes home $1,000; a matching grant goes to the university.

Profiting from the Experience

Although Citibank called the competition an exercise for the students because their ideas are not brought to market, a spokeswoman said the participants come away from the experience knowing more about marketing and credit cards.

"It brings a real product into the classroom," said Maria Rullo, the Citibank spokeswoman. "Probably most of the students are using and have credit cards. They learn what goes into marketing/advertising credit cards."

Students must consider pricing, promotions, affinity groups, direct marketing, and the like. "They're bringing all the aspects together," Ms. Rullo said.

Stephen Szekely, vice president of credit card research for PSI Inc., Tampa, Fla., said the Citibank contest "is probably educational with a marketing twist."

Citibank says the contest is one of its efforts to promote the responsible and effective use of credit cards among college students.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.